Theo Walcott’s dazzling introduction gives Arsenal hope to take to Barcelona

Theo Walcott’s introduction to the fray switched Arsenal’s flow to the dynamic and the direct to give the Gunners hope in the second leg at the Nou Camp.

Barely twenty minutes had registered on the clock but those watching the game were in unified agreement that already, they were witnessing something spectacular. Arsenal had just survived the most relentless onslaught you are likely to see in world football this season but, yet, somehow, came out of the early exchange with no goals conceded. Barcelona threw wave after wave of attacks at the Arsenal goal, with Manuel Almunia performing heroically to repel each and every one of them. Ten shots were fired in the first quarter of an hour and fans were wondering how many more were to come.

Barcelona were mesmerising on the ball, hypnotic, leaving this Arsenal fan somehow, masochistically, wanting to be put through the wringer more. The way they pulled around the Gunners’ defenders was probably most reminiscent of the Dinamo Moscow side of 1945 when they toured these shores and baffled every team they faced. Or even as spellbinding as Ajax in their 5-1 win over Liverpool in 1966 which forced Bill Shankly to peculiarly declare that “they were the most defensive team we have ever met.”

Certainly, that Arsenal were up against something different, something never before seen, was anxiously felt at The Emirates as excitement in the ground quickly transformed into anxiety. Each misplaced pass was met with worry that if Arsenal may never see the ball again, that actually for some reason, Barcelona were a greater danger when you had it.

Arsenal were certainly suffering from an inferiority complex early on and it was mighty relief when on twenty-three minutes, Samir Nasri bent a shot past Victor Valdez post to show that there was a second side in this contest. Indeed Nasri had skinned Dani Alves more than once in the first half but Carlos Puyol’s last ditch blocks and an offside flag to Bendtner made sure nothing constructive came out of the runs. On the other wing however, Andrey Arshavin was given no joy and Barcelona’s asphyxiating pressurising off the ball probably contributed to the Russian’s premature exit with injury (and with some relief no doubt).

Barcelona’s wingers played more narrower than usual, with Keita’s inclusion in the middle allowing the side to switch seamlessly from a 4-3-3 to their asymmetric 4-2-4. Xavi and Busquets were so comfortable in possession that they took biomechanics to another level, and in weaving their pretty patterns, forced Arsenal’s wide men to withdraw more inside. Even with Nasri strategically positioned to try and stop Dani Alves, the Frenchman was still unable to get into direct confrontation with the full-back and Alves, along with Maxwell at left back, continued to bomb forward on the outside as if their marker wasn’t there.

Arsenal’s formation also made it easier for Barcelona to create triangles as Abou Diaby was elongated to the left and Cesc Fabregas pushing closer to Bendtner. If the pair played either side of Alex Song, perhaps that would have denied Barca’s midfielders to get so easily between the lines as then each men would have had a designated man to go up against.

The half-time instructions from Wenger would almost exclusively have been made up of telling his side how to squeeze the space better and engage Barcelona’s ball-players so they entered the second period playing 10 metres higher up the pitch. However, it quickly backfired as a ball over the top of Thomas Vermalen found Zlatan Ibrahimovic to deftly lift the ball over Almunia to put the Catalan side in front. For Arsenal, pushing up was the right thing to do, but on the flip side, without an aggressive press, it afforded Pique more room to look up and make a pass, whilst up front, Ibrahimovic took advantage of the uncertainties in Arsenal’s shape to bend his run magnificently. The second goal that soon followed was almost a carbon copy of the first and with two away goals conceded, it looked game over.

It was a big blow to Arsenal because they had started to come into the game a bit more with Denilson a much more astute presence than Song and Diaby had been, constantly nipping the ball away from Barcelona’s midfielders (he made 12 interceptions according to PickLive and made the most passes of any of the Gunners’ midfielders despite playing half a match less) and on the whole Arsenal saw more meaningful time on the ball.

Wenger had one more roll of the dice to make and with sixty-seven minutes on the clock, he brought on Theo Walcott. The England winger’s brain may not be the size of some of his visiting counterparts but his pace more than compensated in a match where speed could make all the difference. His introduction lifted the mood amongst the fans and his directness caused great problems to Maxwell who until then, had all the freedom of the left hand side. With Eboue moving back to right-back it gave Arsenal the double penetrative threat that has served them well in recent games at the Emirates and so, as Diaby intercepted a pass from Busquets, Walcott was put through. His shot wasn’t the most accurate but it was close enough to Valdes to make it an awkward stretch – the ball rolled under the goalkeeper to give Arsenal hope. Suddenly Barcelona were on the back foot and Walcott had turned Arsenal’s wiggly and unfinished lines to the dynamic and the direct.

Barcelona looked physically and mentally more tired in the second period therefore credit must go to Arsenal for summoning that extra strength against what must be soul sapping opponents. Cesc Fabregas may be out of the first leg through suspension and an injury that followed his thumping penalty but it ensured he had given Arsenal more than a chance in the return leg. Theo Walcott may have also played himself into the starting line-up but thoughts before the second-leg will instantly turn to the way Barcelona had torn apart and humbled Arsenal in the opening exchanges, and will somehow hope against a repeat. Abou Diaby looked lost defending against Messi and co, whilst Song’s incessant fouling would surely go more punished at the Nou Camp. The three substitutes, however, gave Arsenal greater structure and the last thirty minutes surely provides Arsène Wenger the blueprint to use for the whole game. If, that is saying, it is possible because Barcelona exhibited a style that suggests a dawn of a new era, one that is so avant-garde, so hauntingly complex that progenitors of another past, legends of the game, will surely fall and die if they don’t try to mirror it. Jose Mourinho struck an initial blow to the purity and innocence that we so consider to be the heart of how we consider the game should be played. Guardiola may have put the sword through it. Certainly it will make us rethink what is possible on the football pitch, the way once Wenger did.

And so it is, returning back to the immediate affairs, that Walcott’s cameo gives hope to Arsenal that they might recover the coming second-leg but the battle of aesthetics is likely to be the one that will rage of for years to come.

51 thoughts on “Theo Walcott’s dazzling introduction gives Arsenal hope to take to Barcelona

  1. The only 2 performances that I’ve seen, as good as this Barca first half performance, was Ajax battering Real Madrid in 1995, and AC Milan battering Barcelona in 1993.

    They were that good. It was a very calibrated performance, and Barca performed like a perfect machine.

    We brought it all on ourselves by sitting too deep, and due to the unwillingness of Cesc, Diaby & Song to take responsibility for keeping possession. We went long again and again, just allowing Barca to play out of the back which is their strongest mode of play.

    Their pressing game was phenomenal. But as we know, no team can keep that up for 90 minutes which meant we were inevitably going to get our chances.

    The overriding quality of this Arsenal side is resilience. We’re so strong.

    1. “Barca performed like a perfect machine”
      I like that. Are Xavi, Busquets, Alves and Pique the future of football (and also Fabregas, Nasri, and Denilson – and probably bunch Diaby and Song in there)? (Let’s assume Messi is a freak of football). The intensity of the game, exposing the technique and ball retention of players, they were fantastic. Iniesta certainly thinks so, especially as football is following a holostic route seemingly. Maybe if everyone played like that then football will return to the type of football played in the 90’s (very zonal, emphasis on technicality and efficiency).

      But then for every Xavi or so, you are going to have a Walcott whose pace just offers something inherently different to break the mould.

    2. As good as Barca were in the 25mins of the 1st half, we didnt do the full press high-up the pitch as a unit properly. When the front 3 did it, the rest didnt it up and vice versa, in the end we were in between sitting on the edge of our box and countering or pressing up the pitch.

  2. Yes.It was a difficult game,from a difficult team.But the last 25 mins showed their weakness and our strength.We didnot get tired that much for chasing the ball,the way they got themselves tired.Barca has never played that way before (coach) and it will take time for them to play that way again (opponents have seen).I am confident we will beat them at Nou,if we start from where we ended yesterday.This time there will be no fear.YES WE CAN!

  3. “Barcelona’s asphyxiating pressurising off the ball”

    What I don’t understand is at the start of the season we had our own pressing game but somehow that’s fallen by the wayside. Why?

    1. Mentally is one problem. Despite improvements, concentration is not the best and tactically (i.e. positionally) that becomes a problem – who to mark, when to commit etc.

      Also, the structure and organisation is still in need of work. The distances are usually too large between the first bank of pressure, the defensive midfielder and finally the defence.
      The first point coupled with the second makes it difficult to get a rhythm as displayed by whenever Barcelona had the ball deep, Fabregas went to pressure but no-one to support him and certainly without the same level of intensity.

      1. I think Wenger might have eased on the pressing game because we won’t have been able to keep it up with the level of injuries we’ve had.

        We should use it in big games, but as we saw yesterday, it’s a tactic that has its limitations.

        You can’t keep it up for 90 minutes, and 20 minutes late in the game is enough for a quality side to take you out.

        1. I always had doubts fitness wise we could keep it up, remember the first match vs Everton where we battled for every single ball, instead of being passive, we were active, compare that to today, we are very passive and hope the opposition run into where we want them to, it should be us engaging the ball carrier.

          Maybe we need a fitness coach with Wenger, 3 coaches that are masters of being in good physical condition at the business end of a season, Cappello did it many times, Ferguson is doing it, Felix Magath is doing it again as he did at Munchen and Wolfsburg. Our players seem to be showing fatigue mentally and physically at the most crucial part of the season.

          1. Where on earth do you get your ideas from New Gooner. We’re showing fatigue?

            Are you joking? We’re scoring late goals, playing at high tempo till late in games. And to you that’s a sign of fatigue and the need for a fitness coach.

            What are you talking about? We’re the fittest team in the league!

            1. Compare our early season work ethic to now, compare what we do during games to the finish, we don’t have the edge to play the whole 90mins at a high tempo of attacking and pressing. I think we could do with a lot more fitness work, we may be scoring late goals, but we were caught out vs Bham, brushed aside by Utd and Chelsea, if we had better and improved fitness, we could have come back into those games on fitness alone. I’m not being critical, I’m pointing out an area for greater improvement.

              1. You’re talking about pressing high up the pitch.

                It is very hard to keep it up over 64 games in a season.

                It is not a magic bullet as we saw yesterday.

                I’ll have you know that the reason we score more late goals than any team is because we’re fit. We don’t fade physically. We finish every game strongly.

                I don’t see what sense is there in saying we lost to Chelsea or that we conceded a freak goal to Birmingham. What’s that got to do with fitness?

                I’m not being critical of you I’m just pointing out that what you’re saying has no basic in fact.

                1. Good pts re what happened to our pressing game — I did wonder how long we could keep it up, I just thought we might be able to do it longer than we did. But given so many injuries and so many games, I guess it was just too much to ask.

                  Also agree with OG that we are the fittest team in the league.

  4. The players and Wenger should shoulder a lot of blame for this, I really wonder how much preparation we did for this game. I remember the Inter Milan-Barcelona game where it was 0-0, Inter only had 33% of the ball, and limited Barca to 11 shots, they lined up in a 4-3-1-2 and never really looked troubled at all. Compare that to us, as an Arsenal fan, it pains to see us being outplayed on our own patch comprehensively, technically, tactically and mentally, outplayed. For me, there is nothing to be overly happy about, we face a run against the clock to score in the Camp Nou whilst also trying to ensure Barca do not score at home (they have scored in ALL their games there this season), so last night was very expensive and puts qualification far away.

    I think, tactically, Wenger was wrong not man marking the pressure points of the team, namely Messi and Xavi. Fine if we never identified it before kick off, when even Guardiola said his team would look to keep the ball as much as possible, but after 10mins we should have realised this and adjusted to face this reality. Our lack of in game management tactically is a big weakness, and something we never seem to sort out. Tactics surely cannot be that hard to coach to players, the players should also be intelligent enough to see what is going wrong and rectify it.

    1. Thank you for posting this NewGooner, I’ve been reluctant to say this kind of thing on the Arsenal blogs today because it’s all raining positive and everyone seems unwilling to talk about the negatives. While I agree with the general sentiments about how we fought back, I can’t dismiss what for me was the larger point:

      Our (apparent) complete lack of preparation for Barca’s approach and style. Arsene’s complete lack of a tactical plan. “Just go out and play our game” against a team that consistently and collectively fights for the ball, a team with players who are so in synch that almost no passes go astray, they anticipate like clockwork and very easily dispossess opponents, a team whose protection of the ball is total. It really was astonishing.

      I really hate to say it but I grudgingly came to admire Chelsea last night – the way they suffocated Barca so well for 2 games last season was extraordinary.

      We can go on about how resilient we were but Wenger was totally exposed last night tactically.

    2. You are right in most instances but every team would have had trouble with Barcelona – they are streets ahead with the ball than any other team at the moment. And they have a structure in place so that when they lose the ball they can win it back quickly or are organised not to suffer so much. That’s a key difference between Arsenal and Barcelona – Diaby and Fabregas, positionally weren’t right to win the ball back. Plus tactically, as you have always alluded too, Arsenal are just not as strong.
      Wenger and most fans also went into the game thinking, possession wise Arsenal were par – big mistake. Maybe two years ago, that would have been the case with Hleb etc. but now, Barca are close to another planet. The key in Camp Nou is how we learn from the first twenty minutes and overcome the intensity they will have.
      But looking at it again, scoring two goals is a magnificent feat.

      1. “scoring two goals is a magnificent feat.” — agreed, can’t take that away from us at all, tho many are trying to.

        Brain, a lot of people (arsenal haters mainly) are saying Puyol’s foul was never a penalty. I say it is, looking at this photo:

        What do you think?

        1. New Gooner,

          You should listen to Guardiola. He says the performance yesterday is the best he’s seen from Barcelona.

          They’d have smashed Inter last night, as they did at Camp Nou where even Mourinho said they were lucky to come away with only a 2-0 deficit.

          1. Similarly so, Guardiola stated before the game, his side would look to keep the ball as much as possible, why didn’t we prepare for that by pressing immediately in unison? This is what I fear as well in the Camp Nou next week, we will be forced to chase a goal, and that means we may be obliged to commit more players forward.

            We cannot hide behind the façade that we faced a top team, we made too many errors on our own part that enabled the opposition to get on top of us. This has happened too many times in the past, and for that reason, I cannot be happy of a draw, Barcelona always score at home, and tactically can vary their game more than we will, and we are the ones that need a result. Barcelona were very good, but Arsenal were very poor in my opinion.

          2. I’ve seen Guardiola’s comments, I think they played so brilliantly (better than he’s ever seen) because we let them, we just stood off them in awe and were totally unprepared for them.

        2. @ Marcus: It looks slightly harsh in the sense that it was an accidental tangle from Puyol. But it did stop Fabregas from potentially scoring despite Puyol only looking at the ball and not making a chanllenge.
          Mind you, Clichy on Messi was a definite penalty and that was slightly more than accidental…

            1. New Gooner,

              You could say exactly the same about Barcelona. Afterall they came out of a game they dominated with 70% possession and countless shots with a draw.
              I think there were things to critise yesterday, but it is hard to argue with our reresilience in coming back from 2 goals down against the best team in the world.

  5. A great game of football. Looking back on it I really enjoyed it. Barcelona were a joy to behold with their passing and movement. The pressing of the ball – with the intent to regain possession – was awesome. Saying that, there is no way they were going to keep that level of pressure up for the full 90.
    Brain you blogged on the need to have a pressing game to regain possession with a 433 formation and it was really interesting to see it done so well.
    Despite all that what a fantastic job done by the Gunners. The first 20 minutes the team lost all confidence but then through shear force of group personality started to get a foothold. The enforced substitutions made a huge difference – Denilson what class showing how to keep the ball, pass short -to get round the Barcelona pressing – and retain possession. Did he give any foul away while still getting the ball back? he certainly won loads of fouls – since regaining his fitness he seems to have moved up a notch in development. Eboue has such huge energy levels! Walcott coming on and revelling in the space and tiredness of the defenders.
    I think that last nights game should give the team a huge boost in confidence showing that they can compete with the big boys.

    Arsenal, Next week please show your class from the start of the match and dont be scared (that goes for the fans too!!!!)
    all the best Dave

  6. As sad as it is, I think we need to adopt a less quixotic game plan.

    Whilst we share the same ideals as Barcelona, technically, they are in another league.

    Their system is incredibly gung-ho, and whilst in a slower paced Spanish league, such a high-pressing tactic might allow for such attacking freedom, I feel pace and directness over the top can punish such a philosophy.

    For this reason, I feel Walcott should have started the game. Even when he’s not directly involved in the game, his presence alone can force the opposition defensive line deep, and, in turn, relieve pressure on the midfield.
    I must say, I’m surprised that Wenger did not at least bring Walcott on when Arshavin was forced off with injury.

    1. There was an opportunity with no one strictly on the left for Arsenal to start Eboue or Walcott (Keita did drift there as did the other forwards). It is something Wenger will probably look at but Camp Nou is a different environment and it will test Arsenal’s efficiency. It’s another problem getting the ball however – maybe Eduardo is anothe option because Marquez and Pique were both carded the last time the Mexican started in defence and that was at home. Yaya Toure I feel may get the nod however in the back four.

    2. DSD, thing with Walcott, tho, is that I’m unsure as to his effectiveness as a starter. He seems to do fantastic things as an impact sub in big games (something he doesn’t get recognized for enuf) but as a starter, I’m just not sure.

      1. I thought Walcott had to start as Maxwell is a winger playing as full back.

        However, the case can be made that the best time to bring in Walcott is after 60 minutes when the opposing full back is tired….

        Either way, the key was to use Theo’s pace as a potent weapon which it is.

        1. Interesting to read the Spanish press’ take, they emphasize Theo’s contribution especially – they’re not as disparaging of Arsenal as the UK press is either. Anyway, it could be that a big away game like this that’s NOT in England may just be one where Theo’s up for it as a starter. After all, he’s shined before in Europe away on the national team.

      2. I appreciate the view that he works best when running at tired legs, but it wasn’t fatigue that allowed him to penetrate the Barcelona backline so easily; as OleGunner alludes to, it was more a result of Barcelona’s overly attacking instincts and high-pressing.

        Barcelona are the best side in the world IMO, but I’ve always wondered how effective they would be in a more direct league (Premiership).
        They leave their backline incredibly exposed – especially when you consider its relative lack of mobility.

        If Walcott doesn’t start, then we will be totally devoid of any real attacking pace in behind, and as such, will be inviting Barcelona onto us.

        In my eyes, Walcott is a must against Barcelona.

        1. I think he will start away.

          One factor that may have kept him on the bench was tactical. Not team tactics, but individual tactics.

          Like all speedsters under AW, he’s not fast, but very fast.
          Theo scored within three minutes.
          Maxwell only saw a blur for 30 minutes.

          Hardly the best prep for 90 minutes of running after Theo on the open prairie of the Nou Camp.

          If he doesn’t start, Pep will have wasted a lot of time!

  7. Brain, did you see this article, “How to Beat Barcelona” in which 3 managers did just that (one in the CL) explain how they did it:

    I really don’t understand why Arsene doesn’t do this kind of thinking against such a top class side. It’s one thing to “just go out and play” against the likes of Hull but this is Barca we’re talking about.

    Those 3 coaches are hardly the world’s best. I saw those Barca defeats and the managers’ tactics were spot-on, well thought out, precise, and the players had clear instructions and carried them to the letter in disciplined fashion. How can AW send out his players to “just go out and play” with no preparation against a team like this?

    Ok, AW got it right with his tactic of adding speed to a tiring Barca side but that’s hardly genius tactics.

    1. I rather also watched most of those matches and what they did have was good discipline and concentration first and foremost, and attacked with good speed and movement. Rubin’s one was very defensive – which is not a bad thing – but were quick to break in numbers, which is how they scored on the counter. The Dominguez ploy was also very clever as if you want to stop Barca, you have to stop them playing and you do that, from I wouldn’t say starting from the defence but from getting to the deep midfielders.
      Towards the end of the first half, in a couple of moments Arsenal had four midfielders in front of the central defender and they took a while to find a pass. The problem was however, they were just holding their position and not exactly pressuring (esxcept Fabregas), while all it took was Xavi to drop in the pocket as they were also not quite aware of what was around them stop the pass. Like Dominguez, it may be better in moments, rather than being zonal, watch a man, which is more difficult than it, sounds and shadow him for a while. In the return leg, I would like to see instead of Arsenal so much pressuring as high as possible, stop the passing options and that would best be possible by being more compact. The only problem that may be is the full-backs would be free but it is worth taking the risk as the gaps may be big to take advantage of.

      1. Liked your reply, Brain. Clearly at half time AW did in fact give his players tactical instructions as we started pressuring high up (which left us exposed for the goal of course).

        BTW, by no means do I think we’re “out of it” as so many are saying. Nor do I think that even if we do lose, that we’ll be “thrashed.”

        1. I think as a basic standpoint, most coaches when they tell their sides to push up defensively a bit more, the defensive line moves up 10 metres or so. Unfortunately, Arsenal were caught out straight away but in some respects it did work although fatigue may have had some say.

  8. As a Gooner I live to see moments like the game yesterday. It reminded me that silverware may come or not in the end of the seasons but every other minute of the rest of the season, the marvelous experience that Arsenal give me, is the reason why I love this team.

    Our players put their bodies on the line for this game, literally. And the beauty of it was not that they were doing it for a cliche “greater cause.” Ultimately, Gallas and Cesc risked their whole season to fulfill their personal ambition, to be out there competing against the best. What else explained Cesc’s determination to the end in playing against his alma mater? He never denies his affection to them and he needed to prove nothing to them. What we saw in Arsenal last night was what envisioned in the ideals of the Olympics: you try everything to be stronger, faster, better to honor your opponents (some opponents we had) and honor yourself.


    I posted in a pre-match comment that Wenger will be choosing between midfield five between Arshavin-Song-Diaby-Cesc-Nasri and Arshavin-Song-Denilson-Cesc-Theo. That Theo and Denilson’s presence seemed to make an enormous change to the game made me feel vindicated. I think Arsene didn’t pick the best midfield for the game for two reasons.

    One, we don’t need muscles to defend Barca. We need a game-reader-intercepter and Denilson is a world better than Diaby in this department as everyone in this blog seems to agree.

    Two, gambling with five dribblers by sacrificing a runner turned out, with the benefit of hindsight, to be a mistake. Not being able to defend was only half of the problem for Arsenal’s defense in the first half. We looked overwhelmed by the pace at which Barca forced out our possession. Early in the second half we pushed up the defensive line to squeeze space. This risky change backfired with two quick goals for Ibrahimovic. With Theo other players could have simply punt when we have the ball. We could have pinned Maxwell back in Barca’s half without pushing up our back line.

    Ex ante, we would have expected that with Theo on the side we’d be less technical and thus less likely to maintain possession in midfield. But the first 20 mins of the game showed that we could go on long spells with no possession at all no matter what. I wonder what the score line would have been if Theo got twice the game time he had last night to exploit Barca’s final third.

    1. I don’t know if you thought so but most people seemed to think and perhaps Wenger too, that Arsenal would have a good share of possession. My article pre-match was to focus on Arsenal without the ball but I didn’t get to finish it.
      The first twenty minutes with Walcott is definitely difficult to figure out; certainly he could have given Arsenal an outlet but Barcelona were supreme in closing down that he may have just been squeezed out. But Maxwell certainly seemed inhibited by Walcott’s pace and they may have stood off him. Who knows…we may find out next week.

      1. I had no idea that we’d be so intimidated as in the first half in possession. Yes, I was surprised by the way we lost possession, even more than than the way Barca kept it. The game plan seemed to be clear that we’d build up possession slowly from the back up. Wenger was confident, on evidence of games against Chelsea particularly, that we will be able to keep the ball. It’s a bit of a puzzle why we didn’t.

        It could be a psychological problem at the start. Start the same game with the same players again and the it could be very different if the Arsenal players had been a lot more confident.

        In anyway, now that Arsene has no choice we’ll see how my punt-it-to-Theo hypothesis goes.

        Also, Bendtner play as a pivot in attack and he was quite proverbially pivotal. He could have tied the game at 1-1 but for Valdes’s crazy save. That header would have been a sure goal in almost any other time.

        People give Arsenal credits for our guts but failed to see the class that we showed. Neither Chelsea nor ManU ever seemed to dare taking style to cope with Barca’s style. For the little possession we mustered, that’s exactly what we tried to do and I can say that we succeeded to a good extent. It looks like not just a matter of principle but good tactic as well.

  9. Hi good analysis!
    It was a great game and one of the best I have ever witnessed. Barcelona’s pressing was asphyxiating as you say, but I feel that contributed to us scoring two important goals later on. As part of their mechanism of compressing space, they pushed up a lot and their full backs played very high up the pitch. Once Walcott came on, his dynamism and diagonal runs were too good for the tired defenders to handle. Barca’s midfield played quite high up and it was almost like a barrier in front of our midfield. But that also meant space in the wings, which was exploited by our wingers. With dynamism and pace, I think Barca’s wings can be attacked effectively.
    The biggest positive to take away from the match imo, was Denilson! He was absolutely amazing, intercepting many passes and he was also vital to the two goals. His role is very important in that he needs to get the ball to the wings quickly and start another attack.
    We need dynamic wingers to win at camp nou.

  10. Nice to come home and read the debate; just as it was nice to sneak away from work and watch the incredible game yesterday. It is certain that we learned something yesterday; Barca schooled us in how it is really done, particularly the totally suffocating pressure they put on the ball whenever we had it. And yet we came away with a tie. Totally incredible. That, I think, is down to our most criticized players: Walcott, Almunia, and Denilson. Denilson completely shifted the balance in midfield, perhaps not giving the advantage to Arsenal, but at least giving us a chance. And Walcott and Almunia’s contributions were more obvious.

    My question is why we were so much more effective with Denilson in the center? Is it down to tactical naivte by Diaby and Song, who function well in the hurly-burly of the PL, but just couldn’t figure Barca out? Or was it a change in formation? If so, what does the midfield have to do? How does the team line up to pressure better at the back? I think we have a chance if we play a technical team: Nasri centrally, bring in Rosicky, and play Eboue from the start. And yet my biggest interest will see how we evolve tactically from the first game.

    Whoever said we don’t have the same possession skills we had in 07-08 is spot on.

    1. BTW, Puyol on Cesc was definitely a penalty (and seemed to have cracked Cesc’s fibula) but hardly bad as fouls go. The whole red-card thing is a bit ridiculous, as it was against Vermaelan a few weeks back. It seems to me that the red cards should be reserved for breakaways outside the box; within the box a penalty is enough punishment and unless the foul is outrageous, a yellow at most should be added to that. The intention of the rule is good, but it definitely needs to be refined.

      1. If Cesc had been able to pull the trigger, it would have been a sure goal. Technically it is a red card in the same principle as one for Vermaelen against West Ham.

        1. exactly. and if fifa had the rules right, neither would be a red card. That’s all I meant to say. Penalty yes. Penalty + Red Card is rather excessive.

  11. I know we have Wolves up next, but next Tuesday is time to put Walcott over on the left and force Dani Alves to actually play some defense??? That could backfire if Theo doesn’t get back to help, but I expect it would be a nice surprise for the Barca defense…

  12. Not sure it was Wenger’s plan that was at fault, maybe it was more his selection of players. Gallas clearly shouldn’t have started and if Song had started the game he could have been more focused on getting a good cooperation with Vermaelen. Of course, given Vermaelen better pace, it should have been the Belgian player picking up Zlatan’s runs!

    Denilson works well vs. the less physical Barcelona players and he should start at Camp Nou. He often gets bullied in the PL but here his pace and positional ability is a real asset. Rosicky should play on the left, to support Clichy vs. Messi, and Nasri take Fabregas’ position. Walcott, as most agree, should start. Our system will be closer to 4-4-2 than 4-3-3 since Walcott will be higher than Rosicky, but we clearly need 4 midfielders to deal with Barca’s onslaught. One goal on the counterattack plus a solid, heroic defensive performance can get us to the semis.

    1. Why not just go with a proper 451 that morphs to a 442 then?
      Sagna – Song/Campbell – Vermaelen – Clichy
      Nasri – Song/Diaby – Denilson – Rosicky
      Walcott – Bendtner

      1. I like the thought of this 4-4-2, with the wide playmakers Nasri and Rosicky being asked to play slightly deeper than usual – almost level with the central midfield. Walcott would be more of a second-striker with complete licence to run whatever channels he finds most opportune.

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